* It's more important than ever to buy a home that will appreciate in value. While homes generally offer safe, long-term investment, prices dropped dramatically in recent years and, in some parts of the country, are only just starting to recover.
* Consider using a buyer's agent. It's become increasingly common for sellers to pay their fees.
* Interview at least three agents, and work with one who sells real estate full time and has experience in your local market.
* If possible, try to buy when interest rates are low. Rates have greater impact on total cost - over the life of the loan - than purchase price.
* Get a home inspection. Interview three home inspectors. Consider hiring one who isn't also a contractor and doesn't offer to fix problems he finds.
* Get prequalified or preapproved for a mortgage before you start shopping. It gives you a stronger negotiating position.
* Find out as much as possible about the seller's circumstances. You may strike a deal for seller financing that could be mutually beneficial.
* Learn how to negotiate; it could save you a bundle. Pick up a book or ask a realtor for tips.
Source: American Homeowners Foundation